Stephen Kaplan* For decades, legal departments of most corporations suffered from an “us” vs. “them” mentality with the business. In-house practitioners have since come around, understanding their role in the overall corporate scheme and learning the importance of each executive function. But many of us still fail to evaluate ourselves as other departments do.
Like any corporate department not directly focused on revenue generation, the in-house legal department is often the first place a cost-slashing CFO looks for savings.
All too often the CFO and CEO do not truly appreciate or value what the in-house counsel does to move the company forward. Value creation and executive perception shifting as a concept is covered in great deal elsewhere, but the only way to show value in a concrete fashion is to show results. More often than not, those results have to come in the form of measured progress.
In finance, the measure of an accounts receivable staff member can be taken primarily by revenue received. In production, it can be measured by widgets produced or serviced.
Marketing can be measured by the number of ideas which are brought to market, and the success of each (in revenue). Though we hate to admit it, unless a portion of our function can be evaluated by revenue generated for the company, we have to look at our productivity in terms of work product generated, matters resolved, etc.
And the primary way to do this is, and always has been the “billable hour.” Ah, that dreaded term. Many of us came to in-house roles to avoid having to track time ever again. But perhaps it’s time to rethink that aversion.
I am not suggesting that tracking your time will be fun. But it remains the best way for you and your department to see “what happens in a day.”
Only by determining what we are doing (with precision) can we determine our efficiency in bringing about favorable results for our clients. And let’s face it, they are constantly being evaluated in terms of hard numbers. Why should our department be the only one viewed with a purely subjective lens?
Pairing time tracking components with powerful matter management software can make you as fluent in your team’s productivity as any executive in the board room…
And tracking time has never been more convenient. There are simple desktop clients that serve as the faceplate for complex systems. (Paymo is one option which is low cost and very user-friendly. You can set up a project through a portal, showing each component task for that project, and then bill against each task.)
Those same platforms have smartphone apps to let you note the time you spend taking a call when you are out and about, or when a bit of work invades your off time. Your younger employees will likely balk less at the concept, as they see software and semi-intrusive technology as an integral part of their daily routine in many other aspects of their life.
Pairing time tracking components with powerful matter management software can make you as fluent in your team’s productivity as any executive in the board room.
If the concept is daunting, I suggest experimenting with it at the individual level rather than moving the entire department.
You will find that it is not as painful as you might remember. And it does change things when someone is not standing over you determining your entire future by the sheer number of hours you are billing. We sometimes forget that key variance when we think of tracking time.
…when someone questions the efficiency of the team you can point at a simple report showing your volume, speed to resolution, and cost.
If you implement some of these measures, when someone questions the efficiency of the team you can point at a simple report showing your volume, speed to resolution, and cost.
You can benchmark those figures against the results of sending that kind of work to your typical medium to large sized law firm. It should be fairly simple to demonstrate why your team is the superior solution for most projects.
Hopefully, the stress of having to track and measure time and productivity will pay off in that your executive team will constantly be reminded of why you are there, why you are valuable, and why you need to retain (and perhaps, to grow) your in-house team.
*Stephen Kaplan is the Executive Vice President and General Counsel for XOS Technologies, Inc. a sports technology company. This article first appeared in JDSupra.com. Before XOS, Mr. Kaplan served as Senior Vice Preisdent and General Counsel, Chief Privacy Officer, and Chief Compliance Officer for Connextions, Inc., a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group.